Day 114: The Man and the Bellowing Sorrows; ‘Smoke’

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Finally an opportunity when things have relatively calmed down. It has been a hell of a week which has been quite the shame considering how great the past weekend was.

Got a chance to watch The Accountant with Ben Affleck and Anna Kendrick. Great movie. I don’t know why the critics panned it so much. I feel somehow somewhere along the line, perhaps around the Giglii era, Ben Affleck turned into critic and box office poison. He has since proven himself again. The Town was great, Argo proved his abilities as an actor, producer, and director. Yet everyone was so eager to see him fail as Batman that I cannot really get a sense of where people are in terms of Ben Affleck anymore. I was always a fan and Anna Kendrick, though she pretty much plays the exact same person in every one of her films, still plays it well and convincingly and she’s just so damn beautiful. There was an entire subplot with JK Simmons and Cynthia Addai-Robinson that, though interesting, provided very little to the actual story. But the character was compelling and the intrigue was captivating. Highly recommended.

Saturday my friends and I got to go to Six Flags Fright Fest. The day was perfect for it. Fright Fest.jpgOvercast, slightly misty with sporadic rain, and 50°. The rain was moving through southern Jersey heading north so by the time we got there it had pretty much cleared up, but the weather did exactly what I hoped it would. The cold and rain kept most people away from the park so as soon as we were in it was nonstop rides. The shortest lines I’ve ever experienced and that made the cold so worth it. Plus, it’s crazy to feel the wind just freeze your teeth off as you’re screaming down a long drop. I’m a ride junkie so it was great but I was most proud of my one friend K, who hates rides. Something about Saturday just lit something in him though and he was on most of the rides with us. Some only I got on because everyone was too nervous to try. Joker was a solo ride because no one else wanted to try it. If you haven’t seen the ride or know anything about it, it’s a free-rotating and spinning rollercoaster ride. It goes straight up like an elevator and goes along the track with the carts suspended over the railing and Joker Ride.jpgspinning off. Green Lantern was fun and I love the gimmick of standing to ride. Superman you ride on your stomach. Batman the track is above you so your feet are hanging off. I love rides that are beyond your standard car and track. Having said that, the BEST ride experience of Fright Fest was after sundown, in pitch darkness, seeing nothing in front of you and going down an INTENSE drop at 70mph on El Toro. The frights of Fright Fest were okay, predictable, and the haunted mazes were unfortunately an extra cost, but just being able to do roller coasters in pitch darkness was entirely worth it. That and the hot cocoa and churros. Six Flags churros are the best.

Sunday was a thrill as well. I met my cousin in the city to try an escape room experience and take her to a bar in the Lower East Side that has some great drink and oyster specials all day on Sundays. I’ve done escape game before and I love them. Open ended puzzles, usually some great theatric elements (our had secret panels coming out of fireplaces and Mission Escape.pngsecret doors that opened to other rooms and chessboards that lit up when you placed pieces in certain places), wonderful opportunity to be working with friends or even strangers in small groups, and themes that to be honest, I could take it or leave it. The ones that are too over the top or try too hard actually turn me off to it, but just enough to create ambiance are fine. The one we went to was called The Hydeout, where we had to investigate what happened to Dr. Jekyll and how it relates to the mysterious killer Mr. Hyde. It was my cousin’s first time trying it and she admitted it was a bit out of her comfort zone, but I was so happy that she was willing to try it and I think the level of difficulty, the intricacy of the puzzles, the friendliness of the staff and our group, made for a great first experience and I think she sincerely enjoyed it. Afterwards I took her to The Essex, a restaurant in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It used to be an old warehouse which gives it a great setting with high windows and a second floor loft. Unfortunately a rather…rowdy….birthday party was going on literally right next to us but as soon as they left it quieted down and we were able to have conversations without yelling over each other. The drinks were great (and half off on Sunday) and the oysters were only $1 each. Essex.jpgFresh, good flesh and flavor, enough saltiness, great pairing for the night. Actually almost missed my bus because we spent so much time talking and drinking! I’ve been really looking forward to these opportunities to spend time with my cousin since I never got to really know her whenever I would visit the Philippines. We talked about relationships and life decisions and all these wonderful engaging complicated topics. Always fun to stretch the mind that way. Feel bad though because I know it can be exhausting as well. Maybe next time I’ll talk to her about the weather. Hahah.

It really is such a shame then that as fun and exciting as the weekend was, this week has been complete and utter trash. A new update that we were supposed to give people time to prepare for and teach them how to handle was sprung on the company on Monday Dwight.gifmorning and suddenly it was mayhem and chaos. People are emailing, messaging, texting, everyone has no idea what’s happening and our responsibility within our team is to disperse the information as quickly as possible. While my team, who were consultants longer than I was and who know more of the agents out in the field, were handling the smaller requests and one on one messages through our FB@Work program, I was the medium between the actual programming team and IT desk and the area stores. I had to talk to our program director and my manager. When our support desk didn’t know what to do, I was the one who spoke to them and coached them through the updates and how to fix it and what to tell people so that they were armed and equipped to help everyone who was calling and emailing in. But this put me way far behind the front line. I was far removed from where people could see who was giving them information so my boss was wondering where I was, asking why I wasn’t helping, at the same time that I was coordinating with our entire support staff and answering the questions of my team members because they weren’t aware of the changes. I was the one who, at the end of the day, had to give a report of my activities because no one could see me posting on Facebook or responding on emails. It was my work pride that took a little bit of a hit when everyone else was getting shout outs and thank yous and special head-eskmentions for how wonderful they were and how on top of things they were. My colleagues are not ones to easily give credit to others (you don’t get far in sales by giving other people your commission, now do you) and I am not one to ever seek or expect recognition. I trust enough in meritocracy that a good job should be recognized as such. I’m not the type to ‘blow smoke’ up someone’s ass nor am I the type to particularly enjoy the sensation of it being blown up mine. I’ll praise a job deserving praise and I’ll accept praise for a job well done, but I can’t ever support anything else as more than superfluous. Yet here I was dealing with the stresses and demands as I should but watching the ones I armed getting credit. It just hurts the motivation and incentive sometimes, vain as it may sound.

On the bright side it’s almost the weekend, and next week I am on the road, getting to enjoy the traveler life again, staying in my favorite hotels, and I even organized my schedule so that I am working my down the shore so I can spend next weekend in Atlantic City by myself. I have a favorite late night Chinese restaurant that has real authentic dishes for delivery like oxtail noodle soup and salt and pepper squid and jellyfish, the hotel I always stay at is giving me a free night and half off their buffet, Philips Seafood does happy hour drinks and oysters all day Sunday, and I’ll spend some time gambling and maybe catch an IMAX film. Next week it’ll be about me and the road and my work and my writing. No reports, no checking in, and the immediate benefit of my efforts will be leaving a store better than it was when I first walked in.

But on a lighter, more humorous note, let’s talk about the origin of the phrase ‘to blow smoke up someone’s ass’, shall we?!

In the late 1700s ‘blowing smoke up your ass’ more than just a figurative expression for meaningless praise to ‘inflate’ your ego. It was an actual medically accredited method of Smoke Ass.jpgresuscitation, particularly among drowning victims. Much as how nowadays you are expected to know the location of an AED in your office or home, the people of the 1700s were expected to know where smoke bellows were found hung along the routes of popular waterways and by bridges such as in London and along the River Thames. To use the device, a tube was inserted into the victim’s rectum which was connected to a bellow and fumigator to create smoke and push it up into the victim. The nicotine was thought to be an accelerant that would speed up heartbeat, thus reviving circulation. The smoke was also thought to be able to warm and dry the victim’s insides, removing excess water. This practice was so prevalent that the Royale Humane Society offered the equivalent of $750 to anyone who successfully revived a victim through this method. Much like how we nowadays tell those who are administering CPR to sing Staying Alive by the BeeGees to remember rhythm, in 1774 the Royal Humane Society released this little ditty to help remind people what to do for drowning victims when administering the smoke enema.

Tobacco glister, breathe and bleed.

Keep warm and rub till you succeed.

And spare no pains for what you do;

May one day be repaid to you.

In fact, smoke enemas became so popular as form of treatment that its use spread to more than just drowning victims. Smoke enemas were used to treat headaches, hernias, and abdominal cramps. One of the earliest and most popular examples of a smoke enema successfully resuscitating someone was when a young man’s wife had nearly drowned and was unconscious. Without the proper bellow and tube, the husband took a lit tobacco pipe, shoved the stem into his wife’s rectum, covered the other end with his mouth, and blew as forcefully as he could. His wife regained consciousness, though I can’t help but think maybe it was really from the sensation of burning hot tobacco embers being blown literally up her ass.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century when tobacco was found to be harmful to the cardiac system that the practice of ‘blowing smoke’ up someone’s ass was finally considered more harmful than helpful and the expression stayed in the figurative sense. Personally, I’m glad for that.

Day 114

Man: 93 Loneliness: 21

Day 104: The Man and the Cabinet of Curiosities; ‘Urgent’

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The audience is closer to the stage than in any other Cirque show in history, with the stage being only two feet high.

If you are in the New York area any time between now and Nov 27th, you urgently need to go see Cirque du Soleil’s big top touring show, Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities! If you miss out on it here follow them to Miami, FL; Dallas, TX; or Houston, TX where they will continue their tour because this is by far, hands down, one of the most incredible, exciting, gorgeous, and exhilarating Cirque performances I have ever seen.

Kurios features one of the 10 smallest people in the world. Antanina Satsura, who plays Mini Lili, is 3.2 feet tall.

Though my review and post comes to you late, I can assure you it is not for lack of sharing. I have made every possible effort to spread the love for Kurios whenever and wherever I can, with friends and family alike, and I absolutely had to make sure you all knew about it too. I saw Kurios on Friday at Randall’s Island Park in New York, the same place where I saw Ovo, another of their big top shows, back in 2010. The setting is gorgeous, a little island park getaway right outside of Manhattan. The Grand Chapiteau, with its brightly colored spiral tent, is, much like the show, a magical and fantastic setting seemingly out of place and straight out of one’s imagination running alongside the concrete jungle of FDR Drive.

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It takes six days to set up Kurios and two days to bring it down to get on the road.

I’ll be honest with you, I knew little to nothing of this show coming in. I was with my friend and her family, who are much more informed and follow Cirque’s productions a bit closer than I do. It was they who told me about Kurios and I was with them when I saw Toruk which I reviewed earlier [here]. I had this preview video to go by and my friend’s assurances that, after researching the show and following some of the performers on social media, Kurios promised to be one of the best productions in a while, harkening back to such phenomenal performances as Alegria (which in my opinion had some of the best music and clown acts) and Ka (which remains my favorite of all-time with its set and martial arts elements). I knew that the acts would be of a certainly high caliber, and my friend’s brother was particular excited to let us know about the acro-net, a very different performance than their trampoline tracks.

Kurios includes 426 individual props, the most of any show in Cirque’s history.

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From the very moment you enter inside the Grand Chapiteau you realize that this is way more than just talk and hype. For such a limited space Kurios makes use of every bit of valuable real estate. The set is gorgeous and members of the audience had an opportunity to get even closer to the action by walking on a suspended walkway that went over and through the stage. The steampunk element is gorgeously done with these fantastic set pieces that inspire the imagination and immerse you in the world of fantastic possibility. Truly I have to commend the designers of Kurios on the incredibly elaborate set pieces, the whimsical costumes, and the stage design. There was simply not enough time just to dedicate to taking in every little element and appreciating the worksmanship and contribution it gave to that feeling of being inside the mind of an inventor and all of his gadgets and machines.

An 8-person live band performs right on stage during the performances. You can often find the singer at the top of the tunnel and the musicians in various spots during the show.

Of course I must speak of the music, which incidentally I am listening to right now to help put me back at that performance on Friday. The 8 person band that plays for Kurios consists of vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, a drummer, percussionist, guitarist, violinist, cellist, accordion player, and band leader. The music is fantastic, especially if like me you are into jazz and/or swing. Almost reminds me of Caravan Palace, which is a French electro swing group. Live music always has a bit more life and energy to it and the pieces all reflect the mood of the acts and help to transition one to another. It is through music that we really get the most communication between the show and ourselves and the message is always delivered clearly, effectively, and engagingly. I could listen to the soundtrack, which is available by the way, all the time during my free time and feel the energy of the performance again and again in my blood.


Kurios features 46 performers from 14 different countries, all of which are represented by flags displayed outside the Grand Chapiteau.

These acts are incredible, I’m telling you. Absolutely breathtaking. Each act ramps up the excitement and is just even more unbelievable than the last. We’ve seen certain elements of these acts before. Cirque shows commonly feature aerial straps like the ‘Siamese twins’ of Kurios. We’ve seen contortion acts, but perhaps none as flexible with as limited space as the four artists who use the base of a giant mechanical hand to twist and balance and support on top of each other. The clowns are of course always a wonderful feature in any Cirque production and in this more than most I’ve seen recently they are indeed wonderfully entertaining and essentially and critically humorous. The two clown acts, the ‘Invisible Circus’ and when a clown takes a member of the audience on a date at his ‘place’, were unforgettably funny. I was quite literally doubled over in laughter when the clown’s ‘cat’ plays with the audience member. But there are three acts in particular I would like to focus on.

Upside Down World.jpgUpside Down World – Not to be confused with the nightmarish setting of one of my favorite new series Stranger Things, the Upside Down World in Kurios is perhaps the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring act of the entire production in my opinion. A dinner party turns into a fantastical acrobatic balancing act when one of the guests is tasked with reaching a seemingly out of reach chandelier. Meanwhile, completely mirroring their acts, another dinner party takes place above the audience’s guests upside down as the upside guest races to reach the same chandelier. A beautiful ballet of balance and wiring. The very inspiration and spot on execution of such an elaborate piece deserves special commendation.

Acro Net – Past Cirque Acro net.jpgperformances have used  trampolines and trampoline tracks before to show incredible feats of flips and jumps but the acro net in Kurios is of a completely different caliber. Whereas traditionally trampoline track acrobats would use their own weight and the tension of springs to catapult themselves into the air, the performers in Kurios’s acro net act use the combined weight of almost ten separate acrobats synchronizing their jumps to send one poor unfortunate soul flying so high up you fear they’ll pierce the roof of the Chapiteau itself. How they manipulate the air with such ease and confidence is not only exciting it’s also terrifying. I didn’t know whether to cheer or to scream but I knew I was absolutely enjoying every minute of what I was watching.

Hand Puppet.jpgHand Puppetry – I remember as I was watching the performances I would sometimes be distracted by the shadows cast on the tent’s walls. See one of the interesting aspects of a big top setting is how close you are to everything and how intimate each act becomes. You are never so close to the performers as when you are all under this giant tent. As the spotlight followed the performers it would cast these larger than life shadows on the wall and sometimes I was just mesmerized by watching the shadows dance on the wall. I wondered if this was perhaps intentional or just a happy by-product of our setting. Then I saw the hand puppetry act and I knew that someone somewhere definitely realized the artistic and aesthetic value of playing with light and shadow in this setting. There were no big dangerous or exciting aspects to the hand puppetry. No one was flying ten feet in the air or displaying any particular level of physical strength or baffling flexibility. But still, there was magic in this act. In the delicate way the music framed the scene, the focus and elegance of each puppeteer’s movements, and in the way they played with and manipulated the camera and distance and space, this act, perhaps most of all, spoke to me on a deeply personal level. It’s such a risk to take all this amped up energy and adrenaline and excitement and suddenly punctuate it with this intimate and surreal theatre piece. But Kurios did not disappoint and did not take this risk needlessly. Such grace and skill and deftness, to portray so much emotion and life through just the hands. There is not a single moment during the entire show that you are not surrounded by beauty.


Kurios is Cirque du Soleil’s 35th production.

In the Seeker’s attempts to create a machine to manipulate time and space, in the steampunk retro elements of the set, in that 20s era jazz and swing music, and in the variety and caliber and dedication of each act, Kurios is definitely sending a very strong message not only of the history of Cirque du Soleil but also of its promising future. I’m not going to lie I definitely love certain Cirque shows more than others and there are a few I could live without. But I could never live in a world without Cirque at all. Productions like Ka, Alegria, Kurios, these speak to me on so many levels. There is a sense of community and possibility when you see how artists and performers from all over the world come together to make these incredible productions that highlight the best of what we have to offer. In focusing on going back to Cirque’s roots Kurios achieves a level of production that will stand triumphantly on top for a very long time looking forward. I cannot sing its praises with enough enthusiasm or eloquence. I just sit wide-eyed and marvel at what the show has accomplished. And when it is done and the performers come out on stage to take their bows, you can be assured I will be one of the very first, urgently rushing to get up, to give them a standing ovation.

Day 104

Man: 84 Loneliness: 20